The Supreme Court recently overruled the Delhi High Court’s judgment and granted permission to an unmarried woman to end her pregnancy at 24 weeks. While the Delhi High Court denied the same citing the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act as only married women with 20-week growth pregnancy are legally allowed to abort it, SC took a wider view by eliminating the word Husband, keeping Partner, granting the basic human and legal right to women. All thanks to Dr Shantilal Shah and his committee that paved the way for the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, giving permission to end a pregnancy till 12 months of growth and 12 to 20 months older with the permission of two medical practitioners.
India was still lagging behind in giving the option of pro-choice to women, even if the rule of land provides the basic right of taking decisions. The law failed to address the plights of pregnancies due to rapes, other atrocities, minor pregnancies, and other categories which were duly considered by an amendment by Parliament in 2021. If we review the new law, we will realise that provisions still do not take into account all categories. The biggest example of this is the silence on unmarried women. Similarly, when a section of human rights activists proclaim that now women have a choice to make a wise decision, law experts oppose this saying, that the power to decide still rests with recognised medical pregnancies and not fully on women.
According to a report by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released in March this year, close to 8 women die each day in India due to the implications of unsafe abortions. Around 121 million unintended pregnancies occur every year globally, with an average of 331,000 a day. One in seven unintended pregnancies in the world takes place in India. The report cites the non-use of contraceptive methods or lack of awareness as the main reasons for this alarming figure. When the debate on legalising abortions occurs in India and other countries of the world, with the diversified majority for pro-life or pro-choice, we are forgetting the root causes of these unwanted pregnancies. So the question is not about ending the life of a new beat in the fetus or giving full rights to women on deciding things related to their bodies.
Also read: 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies were reported in 2021. Put women’s healthcare on priority
In India, there are more important aspects to be considered and solved. An NCRB report says “a total of 1,597,466 rape-related crime cases were reported in India from 2001 to 2018”. We can’t imagine how many such rapes ended up in pregnancies causing mental and societal pressure on women. Another issue is pregnancies resulting due to child marriages. UNICEF estimates suggest that each year, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India. When they become pregnant at a younger stage and if the MPRS reports that ending it results in declined health of the girls, they have to continue it with deteriorated mental health.
When Indians are becoming more aware of the things happening around them, such cases of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions are a failure of our population. There is a need to focus on family planning, initiating campaigns to ensure that things like contraceptives and their awareness reach rural women, counselling sessions about the responsibility of parenting are carried out, and sex education makes it to curriculums. As the law is progressing now to give at least a partial choice to women, it’s high time that we should collectively address these concerns and make India a safer place.
The author is a student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi. Views are personal